Probably the number one questions I get asked as a blogger is, “how do you get your backgrounds so white.” I absolutely love white backgrounds and I often even obsess about getting that perfect white without the picture looking over edited. White backgrounds seem simple, but if you’ve ever tried to photograph on them you probably know they are actually really tricky. Part of the reason is that the white background picks up and shows any hint of color or shadow. Also, the light sensor on the camera reads all of the bright light coming into the camera from the background and it messes with the automatic settings.
First, let me tell you a little bit about what I use to take pictures and my photography experience. I don’t have much formal education as a photographer. I took an intro to photography class one semester in college, and since then I’ve taken thousands of pictures for my blog and I’ve read articles and tutorials. I’m actually planning on doing a tutorial on taking white backgrounds on your phone, but this tutorial is specifically written with the beginner photographer in mind – someone with a DSLR camera and very basic knowledge of how to shoot in manual.
- Canon Rebel T2i and 18-55mm kit lens. My camera is the very basic DSLR and is about 3 years old. I don’t think they sell the exact model anymore, but the Canon Rebel T5 is a similar camera and only costs about $400.
- Tripod with a lateral arm – This is definitely not necessary, but it allows you to do so much more with your photography. Unlike your average tripod, there is an arm that bends forward allowing you to get perfect overhead shots. I only got this a few months ago and I’m in love!
- Remote trigger – Again this is not necessary, but it’s useful if you’re using a tripod. It allows you to get shots with both of your hands in a picture and it also allows you to shoot at a much lower shutter speed without your pictures being blurry.
- White foam boards – These are essential. You can find them at any craft store, office supply store, and even a lot of grocery stores. When you look at them in person you can see that some are slightly off white. These still work well, but the brighter white your background, the easier your job as a photographer. I also used the oversized foam boards for photographing larger images and I have only been able to find these at Hobby Lobby. They only cost about $5. *These are Amazon affiliate links. However, I personally own and highly recommend all three of them!
Lighting is very very important to getting a good picture, especially when working with a white background. Ideally you want bright indirect sunlight. You may want to play around with different places in and around your house to see where you can find the best lighting. Also, lighting will be different at different times of day. For me the best lighting is by the front window of my house in the afternoons. There is a lot of sunlight that comes through the window, but it isn’t harsh or direct. A lot of people love to work just inside of an open garage (I don’t have a garage so I’ve never tried this) or even outside on a cloudy day. Sometimes when I try to take pictures outside in the shade or when it’s cloudy my pictures end out having a blue tint. I think this is the blue sky reflecting onto your board. You can adjust the white balance settings on your camera, but for me personally that doesn’t always work well.
What happens when you take pictures on white backgrounds on auto is that your camera reads all of this bright light coming in from the background and it decides to let in a lot less light. This ends out giving you a grayish background and a dark subject. To fix this, you need to tell your camera how much light to let in, by increasing the exposure. Since it’s hard to tell from your little screen exactly how your pictures are turning out, I usually take a few pictures at different settings and then choose the one with the best exposure levels.
Here’s a great article about exposure that goes into a little more detail.
- ISO – I usually keep my ISO at 200. If you have less light, you could increase your ISO but sometimes it will make your pictures a little bit grainy.
- APERTURE – This is how large your camera lens opens when taking a picture. A lower aperture means that more light is coming in. When you’re taking pictures of things against a white background I would recommend using the lowest aperture you can. Mine is usually set at 4.5.
- SHUTTER SPEED – This is how long your lens stays open. If you’re taking pictures of moving objects, the shutter speed can affect the overall look of your picture, but when you’re taking pictures of still objects against a background, the only difference that it will make is how much light you are letting in. Tip – if you are holding your camera in your hands, your pictures will probably turn out blurry if you go lower than 1/60. (However if you are using a tripod and remote trigger, you can probably set your shutter speed as low as you want.)
So when the lighting is good, I start by setting my ISO and Aperture, and then I adjust the shutter speed so that the exposure level is close to the +1 on the meter, and then I take a picture or two. I then continue to lower the shutter speed one setting at a time (which increases the exposure) and keep taking pictures until they start to look too bright on my screen. This sounds complicated, but the whole process takes me literally 30 seconds and it ensures that one of the pictures at least will have perfect exposure.
Especially when you are taking a picture by a window, a white bounce is such a simple technique that can make a huge difference. Basically, you use place a white board on the opposite side of your subject from the window to bounce bright light back. It gives you more allover lighting, less shadows and it evens out the lighting in your pictures. I use old white foam boards that have gotten paint splatters or something on them for bounce. To make them really easy to work with, you can cut a slit right down the center of your board without going all the way through. Then you can fold the board in half, or set it up at a 90 degree angle so that it sits up all on its own.
I snapped this picture of my set up with my phone. You can see how much beautiful light is all glowing around the buttons because of the white bounce. You can also see I have white boards everywhere! And as I said before, this tripod is the bomb!!!
This is one of the simplest steps that makes such a huge difference. Basically, all you have to do is increase the brightness and contrast of the picture and right away your gray background will turn white and your subjects will look clearer and even more saturated. You will need to toggle around a little bit until you find the perfect amount of brightness and contrast to add, but I generally increase them both by close to the same amount.